Ahh, fantasy. Who doesn’t love getting lost in an immersive world of magic and adventure? With such a broad range of stories under the fantasy umbrella, there’s a book to fit every mood. My personal favorites are the darker stories with elements of horror or mystery woven into the plot.
In honor of the release of Daughter of Nightmares this Friday, I wanted to share a few other books worth diving into. Here are 13 killer YA dark fantasy novels to binge read today!
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
I’m a sucker for fairytales, from Disney to the Brothers Grimm. This book was stuffed with deliciously dark fairytales, both new and reimagined.
“Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away—by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began—and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.”
The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
I grabbed this book when it first came out despite the controversy on social media. Boy, was I glad I did. The worldbuilding in this book was to die for. There are issues of bigotry and prejudice mentioned in the book, but they’re a crucial part of the plot. Don’t take my word for it: read it and decide for yourself.
“A Great Winged One will soon arise and cast his fearsome shadow upon the land. And just as Night slays Day, and Day slays Night, so also shall another Black Witch rise to meet him, her powers vast beyond imagining.
So foretells the greatest prophecy of the Gardnerian mages. Carnissa Gardner, the last prophesied Black Witch, drove back the enemy forces and saved her people during the Realm War. Now a new evil is on the horizon, and her granddaughter, Elloren, is believed to be Carnissa’s heir—but while she is the absolute image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above nearly all else.
When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren is eager to join her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University and finally embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is an even more treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.”
Dark Hunt by Kim Richardson
Dark Hunt reminded me a lot of television shows like Supernatural and Lost Girl in the best of ways. The heroine kicks ass from the first page all the way until the end.
“Broke and living in a one-bedroom apartment the size of a closet is not what you’d expect from an elite Hunter like me. But Hunting demons and half-breeds isn’t your average nine-to-five job with benefits. The hours are long and the pay usually sucks.
I didn’t think I was going to make rent again until the Council, the group of angel-born who’d shunned me all those years ago, offered me a job—a paying one.
I could either tell them to shove it, or take the job. So what’s a gal to do? Take the gig, of course.
Everything would have worked out fine if the Council hadn’t forced me to work the case with Jax—an angel-born warrior who happened to be way too pretty to be legal. Turns out Jax has an agenda of his own and is determined to make my life hell, but I’m stuck with him. For now.
And things went downhill from there when I found out the demon I’m Hunting is a Greater demon. And yeah, it’s Hunting me too. Swell.”
Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Do you love a morally gray villain? Did a small part of you sympathize with Thanos in Avengers? Say no more, this is the book for you.
“A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.
A prince in danger must decide who to trust.
A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.
Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.
In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.”
Fae of Fortune by John P. Logsdon and Eric Quinn Knowles
Looking for a little more humor with your urban fantasy thrills? Logsdon and Knowles have you covered.
“With a neurotic werewolf, a vampire who thinks he’s James Bond, and a murderous pink teddy bear, the odds are not in her favor.
Savannah Sage always wanted to be a cop in the Paranormal Police Department. But as a half fae/half mage hybrid, she has plenty to prove to the prejudiced asshats at her precinct. After a disastrous mission that ends in both failure and mass city destruction, she becomes number one on the chief’s shit list.
At least she isn’t fired. Then again, being placed in charge of the department’s basement rejects is about as close to a write-off as a pink slip.
When Sage discovers the fae are stealing magic gems to build a super weapon, no one believes her. It’s up to her and her team of misfits to stop the fae before someone yells fire. If she fails, it’s the end of her career.
If she’s lucky…”
Evil Awakened by J.M. LeDuc
“The stories told around the campfire taught us of legends—tales of demons and heroes. I thought they were only stories, but I was wrong. They were warnings.
My name is Pamoon and until recently I lived a normal life. Well, as normal as it could be growing up on a Cree reservation. My birth mom left me on the steps of the reservation medical center when I was just an infant. Being Cree is all I’ve ever known and all I ever wanted to be.
My life changed the night my friends disappeared. They vanished while reciting a ritual they didn’t understand. That’s when I found out the truth of who I was, or who I was supposed to be. I discovered that I am the subject of one of the stories the elders told: the story of a sixteen-year-old girl, whose skin is as white as winter’s snow, come to send demons back to the Netherworld. Come to save a nation.
That’s when I found out I was more than just a girl. I was to become a goddess. If my friends have any chance of being found, it’s up to me…me and Scout, my wolf cub. But I’m going to need help, help only the spirits can provide. I don’t know if I’m up to the task, but what choice do I have?
Instead of listening to me babble on, come and hear the entire story. The story of the Kiche—the Sky Spirit Goddess. My story.”
Shearwater: A Mermaid Romance by D.S. Murphy
Disney didn’t prepare you for these mermaids. Murphy’s take on everything from the anatomy to the legends is unique and fresh, and you can’t help but fall in love with fifteen-year-old Clara and the little town in Ireland painted on the page.
“An ancient civilization, brooding under the ocean depths.
A forgotten race of witches, with dwindling supplies of magic.
And I’m the spark that will consume them both.
Death followed me to Ireland. First my parents’ accident, then a string of vicious murders. As I start to unravel my mother’s secret past, I’m drawn into the orbit of Sebastian, a mysterious stranger with impossible abilities, and Ethan, the arrogant hottie locals whisper plays with dark magic.
When I start developing powers of my own, I don’t know who I am, or where I belong… but if I can’t figure out who is after me or the real reason my mother fled Ireland, more people are going to die. And it won’t stop until the human race is destroyed.
Mermaids are real. And they’re going to kill us all.”
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Faeries, anyone? And, as awesome as the first installment in the series is, the rest of the books are even better! If you like the snark of authors like Holly Black and Sarah J. Maas, you’ll love Melissa Marr’s series.
“Rule #3: Don’t stare at invisible faeries.
Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.
Rule #2: Don’t speak to invisible faeries.
Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.
Rule #1: Don’t ever attract their attention.
But it’s too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.
Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom, her best friend Seth, her life—everything.”
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
SPEAKING OF HOLLY BLACK! No spoilers here. All I will say is: be prepared for all the feels.
“Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
This book appeals to adults and teens alike. Schwab presents an America where acts of violence create actual monsters. HOW COOL IS THAT?!
“There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books, This Savage Song is a must-have for fans of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.”
Blood Oath by Raye Wagner and Kelly St. Clare
This might be the darkest novel on this list. If you have triggers with violence or women held in captivity, reader beware!
“Everything I know is a lie.
I’m an ordinary mortal girl. Lord Irrik is a depraved dragon shifter. King Irdelron is an immortal tyrant.
In the disease ridden land of Verald, life is mapped out much like the established rings of our kingdom. Everyone has a role…
Me? I’ll be uselessly serving potato stew for the rest of my life because I can’t make anything grow.
But starvation brews rebellion.
When the king strikes, I’m captured by Lord Irrik. Instantly, I’m embroiled in a deadly game. One where I’m desperate to understand the rules.
Because nothing makes sense anymore.
Now, I’m not only fighting for my life . . . but a love that could be the key to my freedom.
What if the truth means you’re not who — or what — you thought you were?”
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This one sat on my shelf for a long time before I finally cracked it open. The hype in the book community made me nervous. I’m so glad I did! Another great, darker read.
“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price―and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.”
Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis
Because this list wouldn’t be complete without a good necromancy tale.
“Seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yugen Academy with only one goal in mind: master the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yugen.
Until she meets Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who he notices is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the north, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s life–and the lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens–on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.
Grey and Nedra grow close, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous corners–and when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.”
Did I miss one of your favorites? Be sure to let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to check out Daughter of Nightmares this Friday!